Source: Best Health magazine, January/February 2016
Plum Johnson was 68 when she wrote her first book of prose, a memoir about her experience selling her childhood home in Oakville, ON, and filtering through all its contents after the death of her mother.
Writing They Left Us Everything earned Johnson the 2015 RBC Taylor Prize, worth $25,000, and propelled her into a new world of book tours and speaking engagements. ‘I remember being in a state of shock when they called my name at the awards ceremony,’ she says. ‘The RBC Taylor Prize has been extraordinary in terms of connecting me with so many other women across the country who have gone through similar experiences. It gave me confidence that my writing is worth something, too.’
Johnson spent nine months penning the memoir and another two years editing it. But she says she’s been writing in one form or another for most of her life. A teacher by training, she quit the profession after one year to become a copywriter for Sears catalogues. Eventually, she went on to start KidsCanada Publishing Corp., launching the first parenting publications in Canada and winning an award of excellence for her monthly editorial column. ‘All of these things gave me the tools I needed to write this book,’ she says. ‘Plus, there are some things you can’t do until you are older and have gained experience and wisdom.’
Johnson believes that life for women in particular isn’t linear; they’re often interrupted by things like childbearing, parenting and caregiving, so women learn to be flexible. ‘I see an interruption as a good thing, as it’s an opportunity to reinvent myself over and over again,’ says Johnson, who is also an accomplished illustrator and portrait painter. ‘I think you never know what tomorrow holds,’ she says. ‘My life has changed in an instant many times.’
In high school, she recalls an English teacher telling her not to write anything until she had something to say. ‘I found that intimidating, and it held me back for a long time,’ she says.
Johnson, who is gearing up for a book tour south of the border this year, says she’ll continue writing memoirs, as it’s her favourite genre. ‘Age really doesn’t matter in the world of ideas now, does it?’ she says.